The anti tobacco control lobby argues that the law is too draconian. Seriously, why should that be a source of worry for anybody - unless, ofcourse, one is a potential lawbreaker?
I believe that most of those who go half-cocked over this Tobacco Control Act have not really thought the matter through properly. If they did, it is simple to understand that the law can be said to be draconian only when, and if, it is invoked and enforced. Once you understand that, you will also understand that the law is enforced when it has been broken. This simply means that if you do not break a law, you need have no fear of the law - draconian or otherwise. Unless you are fearful of the certainty that you are likely to break a law one day in the future, no one may stand in dread of any law.
The whole purpose of a law is to deter people from committing offenses that are harmful to society and to thwart actions and behaviors that are undesirable. And, the only law that works is one that is strong and unbending; a law that is enforced rigidly and without exception. Unfortunately, we Bhutanese are a unique lot (as we are so proud to claim!) - we simply refuse to be deterred by any law. In fact, we diligently break every single law that comes into force.
Interestingly, there is something laughable about the claim that the Tobacco Control Act is too draconian. If it were so, how come the law is being broken with such unfailing regularity?
A novice monk by the name of Sonam Tshering was the first to be arrested under the Tobacco Control Act - he was arrested on 24th January, 2011. Since then, despite a continuous stream of news and a barrage of protestations concerning the severity of the punishment, there have been a total of 37 tobacco related arrests as of writing this post - an astounding average of over 9 arrests per month!
If the Act were draconian and if the punishment were as severe as it is touted to be, how is it possible that there is so much disregard for the law? How come people are not cowering in fear and fainting with dread? The only explanation can be that, the law is not draconian enough or, failing that, the Bhutanese people have got to be the world’s most incorrigible and pathological of lawbreakers. Other than that, the only other explanation that I can think of is that the myth that the law is too draconian is nothing more than a fiction conjured up by the idle minds of the Internet troopers that make up the anti tobacco control lobby.
I cannot remember of a more serious law. And, no law in this country has ever been enforced with the resoluteness and effectiveness as that which has been done in the case of the Tobacco Control Act. As I see it, it would be highly irresponsible on the part of this motley of people who oppose the law - to offer the constricted view that the Tobacco Control Act is designed to control consumption of tobacco and to infringe on the personal freedom of the people. The passage and enforcement of this Act goes way beyond that.
The passage and enforcement of an Act of this nature and substance is demonstrative of the fact that our Members of Parliament are serious about their responsibility to the people whose will they must respect and be subservient to. Even while being mindful of the fact that the Act is likely to be unpopular with some section of the population, they still had the courage and the determination to go ahead and do what is expected of them - for the benefit of the society. If this is not proof of their competence and courage, I do not know what is. The Tobacco Control Act is proof that our legislators - the NC and the MPs and the DPT government and the enforcement agencies are capable and willing to take some hard decisions. Therefore, instead of moaning away, as responsible citizens, let us give them support and encouragement to do more in all the areas where we need similar laws. It is not often that the politicians are encouraged to set aside their political agenda and do something truly meaningful and progressive.
We need strong laws to effectively fight such heinous crimes as rape, pedophilia and child molestation. We have been fighting a losing battle against drug abuse, gang fights, chorten vandalism, indiscipline and alcoholism. The reason is simple: our current laws that deal with them are so ineffectual and the punishment prescribed so weak that they fail to deter criminals from committing the offenses.
Let us not give up with the belief that we are beyond mending. We can always try. It is never too late. Just because there are stray instances when it would seem that the law is unenforceable, we cannot give up. This is not Utopia - this is the real world and in the real world, some we lose - but definitely we win some too.
Close on the heels of the denial they suffered in their attempt to introduce the well-intended tax reforms, if this Tobacco Control Act too should suffer defeat, I fear that the government and the legislators will be discouraged from doing things with spirit and boldness. As a result, we will slide back to doing things the same old Bhutanese way - being stuck in the same spot - whirring away like a top, very efficient but without effect - a kidu-centric society. Finally here is a law that means business, a law that has the potential to turn us into a law abiding and disciplined society. And what do we do? We oppose it vehemently.
........ To be continued